SKODA Australia is on pace this year for its third successive annual sales record — a feat it has been able to largely achieve without fielding genuine SUVs in its model line-up.
This, of course, started to change in July last year when the seven-seat Kodiaq large SUV was launched to critical acclaim. Fast forward nearly 12 months and the five-seat Karoq is ready to ... well, rock.
On paper, Skoda’s latest model shapes up as a small SUV, but it is instead pitched against mid-sizers, such as best-selling Mazda CX-5. The Karoq has its work cut out for it, then.
So, will the Karoq be a factor in Skoda Australia’s plans for significant volume growth, or is it another example of quirky over clever? We put it to test to find out.
From launch, the Karoq is offered in a single 110TSI grade, priced from $29,990 before on-road costs in manual guise or $32,290 in automatic form. Four option packages are on offer — Premium, Tech, Travel and Launch — to increase specification beyond its lofty standard level.
Skoda Australia’s five-year/unlimited warranty also helps to better the Karoq’s appeal alongside its average servicing cost of $359.33 over the first three years of ownership.
Motivated by a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with cylinder deactivation technology, the 110TSI produces 110kW of power from 5000 to 6000rpm, and 250Nm of torque from 1500 to 3500rpm. While the manual 110TSI sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 8.4 seconds, the DSG version hits triple digits in 8.6s.
Performance is surprisingly brisk, despite the outputs appearing low on paper. Bury your right foot and the four-pot is a more than willing participant, despite some initial hesitation off the line. Thus, the 110TSI’s best work is done in its mid-range. Switching between the optional Normal and Sport driving modes helps to sharpen throttle response, adding to the surprisingly engaging driving experience. While it’s no speed demon, most urban commuters will be more than satisfied with what is on tap.
In self-shifting examples, a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission exclusively sends drive to the front wheels. While this DSG is one of the better ones in the Volkswagen Group portfolio, like most, it has a tendency to unnecessarily hold onto lower gears when travelling downhill.
Without shifting across to manual operation, there is no way to curb this behaviour. However, the stereotypical low-speed jerkiness is held in check, compared to other DSG-equipped models.
Unfortunately, we are yet to sample the standard six-speed manual gearbox, but potential buyers should be quick, as Skoda Australia anticipates the three-pedal set-up won’t be offered locally for very long. And for those wanting some extra pep and traction, an all-wheel-drive variant with 140kW will come on stream next year, but whether it will be a petrol or diesel is yet to be determined.
The Karoq’s European suspension tune translates across wonderfully to Australia’s lower-quality roads. Ride comfort is supple over smoother surfaces, while unsealed and uneven stretches do not dramatically disturb the serenity afforded.
Potholes and speed humps are dealt with admirably, too, although some firmness is encountered. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are also remarkably good.
Steering is noticeably lighter in the Normal driving mode, but opting for Sport adds meatiness for more spirited drivers. However, feel isn’t class-leading and understeer continues to be an inevitable front-wheel-drive occupational hazard. That being said, it is direct and will appeal to most.
Handling is rather good, too. Throw the Karoq into a hairpin turn or a sweeping corner and it holds bodyroll in check. While SUVs usually aren’t the first word in dynamism, this ‘mid-sizer’ puts forth a strong case.
Its smaller proportions certainly help matters. These strong foundations make the prospect of a Karoq RS even more tantalising ... if Australia’s alleged hot-weather climate will allow it.
However, while the engine, transmission, suspension and steering all stand up, none of these are the Karoq’s best attribute — its interior is sensational.
While small exterior dimensions (4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall with a 2638mm wheelbase) might lend it to being a segment-straddling small SUV, the interior packaging exceeds that of most best-selling mid-sizers.
Key to this success is the versatile VarioFlex second row. While a 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench would usually be enough for applause in the mid-size segment, the Karoq goes a step further.
Cargo capacity is 479L but can expand to 588L when the second row is slid 150mm forward. Not enough? Fold the rear bench flat for 1605L, or tip the seats upwards if you desire. Handy hooks wrap around the front headrests to provide extra support during spirited driving. Want even more space? Just take all three seats out for 1810L.
This versatility is undoubtedly the Karoq’s strongest selling point. It can be configured as a two-, three-, four- or five-seater on demand. Opt for the four-seat set-up and the outboard seats can be slid sideways to increase elbow room.
Thankfully, operation of VarioFlex is easy, thanks to an array of latches and pull-tabs. For the discerning family buyer, this is huge. Of course, the Karoq’s spiritual predecessor, the Yeti, ushered in this system, but it is so good you have to ask why it’s not seen elsewhere in this SUV class. Despite the Karoq’s flexibility, rear legroom and headroom is still more than generous.
Skoda prides itself on its ‘Simply Clever’ mantra, with its models a reflection of this. The Karoq is no different, then. Each touch is well thought out and genuinely improves the convenience factor.
These features extend to an umbrella hidden under the front passenger seat, a rechargeable LED torch in the boot, Velcro-lined plastic cargo mounts, a key-fob-shaped centre console cut-out, an A-pillar-integrated ticket holder, a door-pocket waste bin, a double-side cargo mat, two second-row tablet holders ... and the list goes on. Simply clever? You bet.
The interior continues this high-quality theme elsewhere, with soft-touch plastics adorning the dashboard and front upper door trims. However, shiny hard plastics found throughout the rest of the cabin does cheapen it.
While the Karoq goes further than most with its premium ambitions, it holds back in some areas. The rearview mirror is frustratingly far too slim, as well.
The Karoq is dripping with technology, though. Depending on specification, either an 8.0- or 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support.
However, its flush glass panel attracts unwanted fingerprints. Have a microfibre cloth at the ready, we say. Furthermore, the colour multi-function display is a touch too small, but the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster available from the fourth quarter this year will go some way in improving matters.
Low-speed autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are among the Karoq’s standard advance driver-assist systems. This is a boon for safety-conscious buyers, but they are forced to upgrade to the $1700 Travel Pack to gain access to blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keep assist – features that should be standard.
The Karoq is an outstanding first effort in this segment from Skoda. It lacks any notable flaws and exceeds in so many aspects. Unlike its quirky Yeti forebear, the Karoq is a serious offering that should propel Skoda Australia sales to volumes not seen before.
See past its smaller exterior dimensions and you will find it is a true mid-size SUV. Is it class leader? On first impressions, absolutely. Supply issues will determine if it’s a sales success, too.